October 2, 2023

From calls to a more defined military plan, to a plea for more diplomacy, Wittenberg students express a variety of reactions to President Barack Obama’s strategy to address ISIS.
Last Wednesday night, President Obama delivered a speech in which he suggested that the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) is “one of the greatest threats” to the United States and its allies, and argued that the United States should work to “erode” and “destroy” the group.
The speech came after ISIS published a video on September 2 of a self-proclaimed member beheading 31-year-old American journalist Steven Sotloff. This was the second of such videos released in the last month, the first of which was released on August 20, showing the beheading of 40-year-old American journalist James Foley. Both killings, according to ISIS, were in retaliation to American airstrikes aimed at ISIS in Northern Iraq, which were used by the United States to counter the group’s growing presence in Iraq.
In his 15-minute speech, President Obama laid out a four-prong strategy to “eradicate” ISIS that included: enhancing airstrikes against ISIS, increasing military aid to Syrian Rebels, strengthening counterterrorism efforts domestically, and continuing to provide humanitarian aid to innocent civilians — all in coordination with foreign allies.
Though President Obama called for unity-driven action, students have articulated a spectrum of reactions.
One student is excited to see President Obama lay out a plan, but is skeptical of what that plan entails.
“After months of inaction, it is welcome news to see that President Obama has a ‘strategy’ to respond to ISIS and the existential threat they pose to thousands of people across Iraq and Syria,” Michael Southerland ’16, Vice President of Campus Republicans, said. “However, at this point, the strategy is not clear, is not refined, has no definite goal, and no exit strategy.”
While one student expressed angst in regards to the ambiguity of President Obama’s strategy, another showed worry about the limited extent to which the President is willing to be involved. Ethan Dunn ’15, a Political Science major and member of the College Republicans, expressed hesitance about the President’s call for partial involvement, and argued that “limited engagement” can “lead to a perpetual state of war,” and “has not worked out historically,” citing Iraq and Afghanistan as examples.
“The threat [of ISIS] may be real but it continues a precedent of ongoing warfare that can lead the country down a dangerous path in terms of foreign policy,” Dunn explained. “If ISIS is such a threat to the United States I feel the whole might of the military should be thrown at them.”
Beyond calls for a more defined military approach, one student criticized President Obama for not trying to hard enough to resolve this conflict diplomatically. Courtney Biede’ 15, Founder and President of the Wittenberg Student Peace Alliance, said Sunday that she wished President Obama would have used more peaceful and “understanding” strategies before violence.
“It appears that he skipped [the diplomacy] step and went straight to the [military] reaction,” Biede, who is majoring in International Studies with a concentration in diplomacy, said. “I am a bit disappointed that he didn’t spend more time trying to find a different solution before he targeted them as a terrorist organization and ‘fueled their fire’ a bit by calling them out.”
While reactions are variable, the perspectives shared one sentiment: an underlying skepticism for President Obama’s plan.

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